It's familiar territory for North Penn. The Knights are making their 10th appearance in the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA football championship game since 2002 and 11th overall.
Upper Dublin is breaking new ground. The Cardinals are in position to win a district crown for the first time since the playoffs were established in 1992.
The frequent finalist, with six district titles under its belt, and undefeated newcomer will clash for top honors at noon Saturday at Souderton. The teams last met in 1996, with North Penn winning a nonleague contest, 21-7.
When asked if the Knights (11-2) come in as favorites because of their playoff experience, North Penn coach Dick Beck said, "Upper Dublin is the undefeated team, so I have to believe we're the underdogs."
After a 1-2 start, North Penn, the tournament's No. 9 seed, has won 10 straight. No. 3 Upper Dublin (13-0) has outscored foes by 580-109 while setting a school record for victories in a season.
The Knights, who are seeking their fourth title in the last eight seasons, are sparked on offense by tailback Nyfease West, quarterback Reece Udinski, wideout Ricky Johns, and wingback Justin Ostopowicz.
The Delaware State-bound West carried 33 times for 244 yards in a 27-14 quarterfinal win over top-seeded Downingtown East. Udinski, a junior, has thrown for nearly 2,400 yards and 24 touchdowns.
"They run the ball so well and they can also hurt you with the pass," Upper Dublin coach Bret Stover said. "It's difficult to game- plan for them."
North Penn's vastly improved offensive line is made up of center Mike Gallagher, guards Ryan Lare and Tobias McCullough, tackles Dan Liberio and Mark Shadle, and ends Keith Earle and Owen Thomas. "In the last two weeks, our line has played the best it has all year," Beck said.
For the Cardinals, who last season advanced to the district semis, quarterback Ryan Stover has connected on 122 of 188 passes for 2,050 yards and 25 touchdowns.
"He's the quintessential coach's son, very comfortable with the offense, and confident in what he does," Beck said.
Stover (73 carries for 916 yards and 11 TDs) is supported by running backs Kaleif Lee and Stacey Gardner, and receivers Jack Rapine, Danny Boggs, and Mike Sowers.
On the injury front, North Penn's Nick Isabella, a rugged fullback and linebacker, is expected to miss his second straight game. Bret Stover said the Cardinals' Henry Winebrake, an offensive lineman and middle linebacker who did not play last week against Pennsbury, is questionable.
Pick. The Knights' defense (Earle, an end, notched eight sacks in the last three games) is the difference in a back-and-forth contest. North Penn, 28-21.
In the weekend's other playoff games:
PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal:
Imhotep Charter (12-0) vs. Academy Park (13-0), at Plymouth Whitemarsh, 7. Can a Knights defense that yields only 6.3 points per game slow a Panthers offense that averages 45.2 points?
Academy Park also needs stellar showings from dual-threat QB Jawan Collins and halfback Jermaine Wesley to pull off the improbable.
Pick: Imhotep, 46-13.
PIAA Class A quarterfinal: Bishop McDevitt (7-6) vs. Old Forge (12-1), at Pleasant Valley, 7. Old Forge has a strong one-two punch in Cooper Califano (1,240 rushing yards, 21 TDs) and Joey Gutowski (1,175 passing yards, 12 TDs). McDevitt's Max Bryson has thrown for 1,250 yards and 13 TDs.
Pick: Old Forge, 19-14.
PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal:
Parkland (12-1) vs. La Salle (8-3), at Northeast, 1. The Explorers' bid to move closer to their first crown since 2009 hinges on their ability to keep dynamic Trojans QB Devante Cross from making big plays with his arm and legs.
Pick: La Salle, 28-24.
PIAA Class AA quarterfinal: West Catholic (9-4) vs. Dunmore (12-1), at Northern Lehigh, 1. The Bucks' Garrett Murray has carried 143 times for 1,455 yards and 22 TDs. Dunmore boss Jack Henzes ranks second in the state with 407 career wins.
Pick: West, 27-16.